“I’m just a small-time brewer, I probably have the smallest brewery in the country,” said Chennells candidly. His Zulu Blonde beer, which is not named after a black African with blonde hair, was developed more than 10 years ago after years of “trial and error” and tinkering with his father, Graham, and uncle, Mark. Chennells originally hails from the tourism and finance sectors, but he’s a born and bred Zululander and his heart was with the brewing machines and the culture of the province. His father Graham studied Zulu culture and as well as being a brewmaster, has been a farmer, a paratrooper, won the gruelling Dusi Canoe Marathon, is a retired rugby player and is a former mayor of Eshowe.
Chennells explains that “Zulu” refers to the beer’s origin, in Zululand, and “Blonde” is the type of pale ale that he brews. But how does it taste: “It’s a very golden beer, it has a sort of honey aroma, it’s very fruity and slightly bitter,” he said.
“I returned to Eshowe from London in 2003 and bought The George Hotel. My father, Graham, is a one-time mayor of Eshowe. Together we picked up his long-term dream of turning Eshowe into a major tourist attraction, using the blonde beer he had been brewing in the hotel’s backyard for years as the major drawcard.
To bring some consistency to Zulu Blonde, I went off to study at the American Brewers’ Guild,” Chennells says. Not long after he returned a remarkable thing happened. “Zulu Blonde was voted best beer at the Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival in 20 10. From doing batches of 150 litres a day in Eshowe I was suddenly in Burton-on-Trent, which is to beer drinkers what Graceland is to Elvis fans, brewing 50000 litres in a day. The ales have been produced by 30 award-winning breweries – 25 from the UK, as well as five international brewers from Australia, US, Spain, Sweden and South Africa.
After a nine-month course, a tour of 160 distilleries and many late night brewing sessions, South African Richard Chennells developed an excellent range of beers now available in the Uk.
“The Blonde is technically half barley and half wheat but I tap off on the wheat. Of course there is secrecy about the recipe but it needs to be tweaked from location to machine. Small changes in the water need to be factored in for instance,” said Chennells.
And while his beer may be a sensation in the United Kingdom, if you want to taste his home-brew you have to go to Eshowe or visit Quay 4 Tavern in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, the Alba Easy Lounge in Cape Town or King Shaka Airport or visit their newly opened brew pub “The Zululand Brewing Company” in Umhlanga, Durban.